Doolin: Theater of mind captured in radio museum
By John Doolin August 23, 2012 3:44PM
Jack and Janet LaVelle are pictured in their Oak Forest home. “I have always played with radios,” Jack said. “I love bringing history back to life.” | Supplied Photo
Updated: September 27, 2012 11:02AM
When you step into the Oak Forest home and museum of Jack and Janet LaVelle, you seem to step back in time.
When I walked in recently, the games also began. Jack asked me to “find the radio in the room.”
Though it may not sound like a difficult task, trust me, it was.
I looked throughout the room, and among dolls, stained glass, umbrellas, stuffed deer heads and sea shells.
I didn’t find it.
Jack then pointed out the radio embedded in a desk.
As we moved to the next room, Janet called out, “I’m taking him to the bedroom.”
“I’m pretty warped,” she added. “Jokes run rampant in our house.”
The LaVelles are like no other people I have ever met.
Their radio collection of more than 600 pieces is not only impressive; it is a time machine of the industry.
From the moment I entered their home and, as we walked through the 10-plus additions, the collections got more impressive. From dolls, to hats, to purses, to pins, to miniature perfume bottles and to jewelry, Janet had a story about each item.
Throughout the tour, there was a humbleness to Janet and Jack, a sense of philanthropy.
When we talked about the hats, purses and jewelry, Janet told me of the local high school girls she invited by to pick items out to wear for prom.
“Nothing is technically for sale,” Janet said. “If I see an item I like, I buy it, and then I like to share it.”
I could have spent all day at their home. It was a time capsule of multiple generations.
As we moved into the garage, where Jack fully restores every radio they own to its original state with help from manuals that fill a wall, I thought the tour was over. Then, they opened the doors to radio history.
As a radio major in college, I was completely engulfed in the history. From the microphones, to the Dictaphones, to the transistor radios, to the full-sized Philcos, you name it, they have it, fully restored and, most importantly, working.
One of the more interesting pieces was a 1926 Neutrowound 6 Tube Battery Set that was manufactured in Homewood.
Everyone was trying to get into the radio business back then, Jack said. There were 200 manufacturers in Chicago alone.
The Homewood Neutrowound 6 lasted three years.
All of this brought me back to when I was a kid, listening to Dave Baum on AM-WIND (560). He would sign off every broadcast with, “Mama, get the coffee ready; the kid is on his way.”
Everywhere I turned in the garage, there was a piece of radio history right down to a picture of Marconi and a bust of Thomas Alva Edison, pioneers of radio and the phonograph.
“I have always played with radios,” Jack said. “I love bringing history back to life.
“I just want to preserve the history of radio. The (financial) value (of the radios) doesn’t matter.”
“Absolutely not,” Janet said.
Collectors, conservators and preservers of the history of the Golden Age?
Make an appointment to view their antique radio museum by calling (708) 687-3007.
By the way, be prepared to answer the phone. As I was walking to the door, it rang, and Janet yelled to me to answer it.
I replied, “Where is it?”
Janet said, “In the phone booth.”
Yes, I forgot to mention they have a phone collection as well, including a fully restored, working wooden phone booth.
All I can say is “seeing is believing.”
John Doolin is the South Division advertising director for Sun-Times Media.